LOS ANGELES - The empty space on her office shelves tell you that UCLA's Nikki Caldwell is a coach in transition.
There's a book on leadership by legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. There are souvenir gloves from boxer Roy Jones. But mostly, there's a lot of room, a reminder that the former Lady Vols assistant hasn't had time to turn her new office into a home.
In a way, though, the Oak Ridge native already seems at home. Never mind the distance from her home state and her close-knit family. This is where Caldwell wanted to be all along.
As comfortable as she was as an assistant in women's basketball preeminent program, Caldwell had bigger career plans.
"My goal always was to be a head coach," she said. "I'm so grateful for the opportunity."
Her goal has taken her a long way from home. But she's handling the distance better than her family is.
"My mom called me the other day and said, 'I went by your house and it reminded me again that you're gone,' " Caldwell said. "And she said she started crying.
"I said, 'Mom, you can't call me and tell me that.' "
Caldwell tries to put the distance in perspective by telling her mother and grandparents, who also live in Oak Ridge, it's not that much different than when she was an assistant coach at the University of Virginia.
"It took them about six and a half hours driving when I was at Virginia," Caldwell said. "Now, I tell them they just have to spend that time on the plane."
There's also a plane trip in store for Princess, Caldwell's beloved cocker spaniel, who is staying with her grandparents until Caldwell moves into a newly purchased condo not far from Marina Del Rey. When Caldwell settles in, Princess will join her.
There already are familiar Tennessee faces in the area. Former Lady Vols players Candace Parker, Sidney Spencer and Shannon Bobbitt play for the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA. Tasha Butts, another former Lady Vol, joined Caldwell's staff as an assistant coach.
Caldwell's Tennessee connection will be on full display tonight at the Staples Center. The Sparks' game with San Antonio has been designated as "UT Night."
There will be a postgame reception for UT fans. Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, associate head coach Holly Warlick, athletic director Joan Cronan, chancellor Jan Simek and UT president John Petersen are scheduled to attend.
After a Tennessee Saturday night, Caldwell's focus will be solely on UCLA, which returns four starters from a 16-15 team that struggled down the stretch last season.
"You've got to have the thoroughbreds," Caldwell said. "So recruiting will be a strong suit. I've got three assistant coaches who can recruit. That will be the lifeline of our program."
Caldwell, who excelled as a recruiter at UT, doesn't sound as though she will have any problem selling UCLA basketball.
"I love being out here," she said. "I love every day coming to work.
"You've seen the campus. It's gorgeous."
And despite the Lady Vols' eight national championships, they can't compete with UCLA's weather.
"When I talked to my mom," she said, 'It's raining here.'
"Well, it's sunny here," Caldwell said with a smile.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.